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From: How to Teach

All human activity might be classified under three heads,--play, work,
and drudgery,--but just what activities belong under each head and just
what each of the terms means are questions of dispute. That the
boundaries between the three are hazy and undefined, and that they shade
gradually into each other, are without doubt true, but after all play is
different from work, and work from drudgery. Much of the disagreement as
to the value of play is due to this lack of definition. Even to-day when
the worth of play is so universally recognized, we still hear the
criticism's of "soft pedagogy" and "sugar coating" used in connection
with the application of the principle of play in education.

Although what we call play has its roots in original equipment, still
there is no such thing as the play instinct, in the sense that there is
a hunting instinct or a fighting instinct. nstead of being a definite
instinct, which means a definite response to a definite situation, it is
rather a tendency characteristic of all instincts and capacities. t is
an outgrowth of the general characteristic of all original nature
towards activity of some kind. This tendency is so broad and so complex,
the machinery governing it is so delicate, that it produces responses
that vary tremendously with subtle changes in the individual, and with
slight modifications of the situation. What we call play, then, is
nothing more than the manifestations of the various instincts and
capacities as they appear at times when they are not immediately useful.
The connections in the nervous system are ripe and all other factors
have operated to put them in a state of readiness: a situation occurs
which stimulates these connections and the child plays. These
connections called into activity may result in responses which are
primarily physical, intellectual, or emotional--all are manifestations
of this tendency towards activity. All habits of all kinds grow out of
this same activity: habits which we call work and those which we call
play. Man has not two original natures, one defined in terms of the play
instinct, and the other in terms of work. Most of the original
tendencies involved in play are not peculiar to it, but also are the
source of work. Manifestation results in making "mud pies and apple
pies"; physical activity results in the kicking, squirming, and
wriggling of the infant and the monotonous wielding of the hammer of the
road mender. The conditions under which an activity occurs, its
concomitants, and the attitude of the individual performing it determine
whether it is play or work--not its source or root.

Much, then, of what we call play is simply the manifestation of
instincts and capacities not immediately useful to the child. f they
were immediately useful, they would probably be put under the head of
work, not play. Many of the activities which seem playful to us and not
of immediate service do so because of the conditions of civilized life.
Were the infants living under primitive conditions, "in such a community
as a human settlement seems likely to have been twenty-five thousand
years ago, their restless examination of small objects would perhaps
seem as utilitarian as their fathers' hunting."[13] Certainly the
tendency of little children to chase a small object going away from
them, and to run from a large object approaching slowly, their tendency
to collect and hoard, their tendency to outdo another engaged in any
instinctive pursuit, would under primitive conditions have a distinct
utilitarian value, and yet all such tendencies are ranked as play when
manifested by the civilized child.

Other tendencies become playful rather than useful because of the
complexity of the environment and of the nervous system responding to
it. n actual life we don't find activity following a neatly arranged
situation--response system. On the contrary, a situation seldom
stimulates one response, and a response seldom occurs in the typical
form required by theory. t is this mingling of responses brought about
by varying elements in the situation that gives the playful effect. n a
less complex environment this complexity would be lessened. Also
experience, habit, tends to pin one type of response to a given
situation and the minor connections gradually become eliminated. For
example, if a boy of nine, alone in the woods, was approached by another
with threatening gestures and scowls, the fighting response would be
called out, and we would not call it play, because it served as
protection. f the same boy in his own garden, with a group of
companions, was approached by another with scowls, a perfectly
good-natured tussle might take place and we would call it play. The
difference between the two would be in minor elements of the situation.
Some of these differences are absence or presence of companions, the
strangeness or familiarity of the surroundings, the suddenness of the
appearance of the other boy, and so on.

Most of the older theories of play did not take into account these three
facts, _i.e.,_ the identity in original nature of the roots of play and
work; the fact that man's original nature fits him for primitive not
civilized society; the complexity of the situation--response connection
and its necessary variation with minor elements in the external
situation and in the individual. Earlier writers, therefore, felt the
need of special theories of play. The best known of these theories are,
first, the Schiller-Spencer surplus energy theory; second, the Groos
preparation for life theory; third, the G. Stanley Hall atavistic
theory; fourth, the Appleton biological theory. Each of the theories has
some element of truth in it, for play is complex enough to include them
all, but each, save perhaps the last, falls short of an adequate

Two facts growing out of the theory of play accepted by the last few
paragraphs need further discussion. First, the order of development in
play. The play activities must follow along the line of the developing
instincts and capacities. As the nerve tracts governing certain
responses become ready to act, these responses become the controlling
ones in play. So it is that for a time play is controlled largely by the
instinct of manipulation, at another time physical activity combined
with competition is most prominent, at another period imagination
controls, still later the puzzle-solving tendency comes to the point
followed by all the games involving an intellectual factor. This being
true, it is not surprising to find certain types of play characterizing
certain ages and to find that though the particular games may vary,
there is a strong resemblance between plays of children of the same age
all over the world. t must not be forgotten, however, that the
readiness of nerve tracts to function, and therefore the play responses,
depends on other factors as well as maturity. The readiness of other
tracts to function; past experience and habits; the stimulus provided by
the present situation; absence of competing stimuli; sex, health,
fatigue, tradition--all these and many more factors modify the order of
development of the play tendencies. Still, having these facts in mind,
it is possible to indicate roughly the type of play most prominent at
different ages.

Children from four to seven play primarily in terms of sensory
responses, imagination, imitation, and curiosity of the cruder sort.
Love of rhythm also is strong at this period. From seven to ten
individual competition or rivalry becomes very strong and influences
physical games, the collecting tendency, and manipulation, all of which
tendencies are prominent at this time. Ten to twelve or thirteen is
characterized by the "gang" spirit which shows itself in connection with
all outdoor games and adventures; memory is a large factor in some of
the plays of this period, and independent thinking in connection with
situations engendered by manipulation and the gang spirit becomes
stronger. At this period the differences between girls and boys become
more marked. The girls choose quieter indoor games, chumming becomes
prominent, and interest in books, especially of the semi-religious and
romantic type, comes to the front. n the early adolescent period the
emotional factor is strong and characterizes many of the playful
activities; the intellectual element takes precedence over the physical;
the group interest widens, although the interest in leadership and
independent action still remains strong; teasing and bullying are also
present. This summary is by no means complete, but it indicates in a
very general way the prominent tendencies at the periods indicated.

The second fact needing further elaboration is that of the complexity of
the play activity. Take, for instance, a four-year-old playing with a
doll. She fondles, cuddles, trundles it, and takes it to bed with her.
t is jumped up and down and dragged about. t is put through many of
the experiences that the child is having, especially the unpleasant
ones. ts eyes and hair, its arms and legs, are examined. Questions are
asked such as, "Where did it come from?" "Who made it?" "Has it a
stomach?" "Will it die?" n many instances it is personified. The child
is often perfectly content to play with it alone, without the presence
of other children. This activity shows the presence of the nursing
instinct, the tendency towards manipulation, physical activity,
imitation and curiosity of the empirical type. The imagination is active
but still undifferentiated from perception. The contentment in playing
alone, or with an adult, shows the stage of development of the
gregarious instinct. A girl of nine no longer cuddles or handles her
doll just for the pleasure she gets out of that, nor is the doll put
through such violent physical exercises. The child has passed beyond the
aimless manipulation and physical activity that characterized the
younger child. nstead she makes things for it, clothes, furniture, or
jewelry, still manipulation, and still the nursing instincts, but
modified and directed towards more practical ends. mitation now shows
itself in activities that are organized. The child plays Sunday, or
calling, or traveling, or market day, in which the doll takes her part
in a series of related activities. But in these activities constructive
imagination appears as an element. Situations are not absolutely
duplicated, occurrences are changed to suit the fancy of the player, as
demanded by the dramatic interest. A fairy prince, or a godmother, may
be participants, but at this age the constructive imagination is likely
to work along more practical lines. Curiosity is also present, but now
the questions asked are such as, "What makes her eyes work?" "Why can't
she stand up?" or they often pertain to the things that are being made
for the doll. They have to do with "How" or "Why" instead of the "What."
The doll may still be talked to and even be supposed to talk back, but
the child knows it is all play; it is no longer personified as in the
earlier period. For the child fully to enjoy her play, she must now have
companions of her own age, the older person no longer suffices.

The outdoor games of boys show the same kind of complexity,--for
instance, take any of the running games. With little boys they are
unorganized manifestations of mere physical activity. The running is
more or less at random, arms and vocal organs are used as much as the
legs and trunk. mitation comes in-what one does others are likely to
do. The mere "follow" instinct is strong, and they run after each other.
The beginnings of the fighting instinct appear in the more or less
friendly tussles they have. The stage of the gregarious instinct is
shown by the fact that they all play together. Later with boys of nine
or ten the play has become a game, with rules governing it. The general
physical activity has been replaced by a specialized form. mitation is
less of a factor. The hunting instinct often appears unexpectedly, and
in the midst of the play the elements of the chase interfere with the
proper conduct of the game. The fighting instinct is strong, and is very
easily aroused. The boys now play in gangs or groups, and the tendency
towards leadership manifests itself within the group. The intellectual
element appears again and again, in planning the game, in judging of the
possibility of succeeding at different stages, or in settling disputes
that are sure to arise. So it is with all the plays of children: they
are complexes of the various tendencies present, and the controlling
elements change as the inner development continues.

All activities when indulged in playfully have certain common
characteristics. First, the activity is enjoyed for its own sake. The
process is satisfying in itself. Results may come naturally, but they
are not separated from the process; the reason for the enjoyment is not
primarily the result, but rather the whole activity. Second, the
activity is indulged in by the player because it satisfies some inner
need, and only by indulging in it can the need be satisfied. t uses
neurone tracts that were "ready." Growing out of these two major
characteristics are several others. The attention is free and immediate;
much energy is used with comparatively little fatigue; self-activity and
initiative are freely displayed.

At the other extreme of activity is drudgery. ts characteristics are
just the opposite of these. First, the activity is engaged in merely for
the result--the process counting for nothing and the result being the
only thing of value. Second, the process, instead of satisfying some
need, is rather felt to be in violation of the nature of the one
engaged. t uses neurone tracts that are not "ready" and at the same
time prevents the action of tracts that are "ready." t becomes a task.
The attention necessarily must be of the forced, derived type, in which
fatigue comes quickly as a result of divided attention, results are
poor, and there is no chance for initiative.

Between these two extremes lies work. t differs from play in that the
results are usually of more value and in that the attention is therefore
often of the derived type. t differs from drudgery in that there is not
the sharp distinction between the process and the result and in that the
attention may often be of the free spontaneous type. t was emphasized
at the beginning of this chapter that the boundaries between the three
were hazy and ill defined. This is especially true of work; it may be
indistinguishable from play as it partakes of its characteristics, or it
may swing to the other extreme and be almost drudgery. The difference
between the three activities is a subjective matter--a difference
largely in mood, in attitude of the person concerned, due to the
readiness or unreadiness of the neurone tracts exercised. The same
activity may be play for one person, work for another, and drudgery for
still another. Further, for the same person the same activity may be
play, work, or drudgery, at different times, even within the same day.

Which of the three is the most valuable for educational purposes?
Certainly not drudgery. t is deadening, uneducative, undevelopmental.
Any phase of education, though it may be a seemingly necessary one, that
has the characteristics of drudgery is valueless in itself. As a means
to an end it may serve--but with the antagonistic attitude, the
annoyance aroused by drudgery, it seems a very questionable means.
Education that can obtain the results required by a civilized community
and yet use the play spirit is the ideal.

But to have children engaged in play, in the sense of free play, cannot
be the only measure. There must be supervision and direction. The spirit
that characterizes the activities which are not immediately useful must
be incorporated into those that are useful by means of the shifting of
association bonds. Nor can all parts of the process seem worth while to
the learner. Sometimes the process or parts of it must become a means to
an end, for the end is remote. But all this is true to some extent in
free play--digging the worms in order to go fishing, finding the
scissors and thread in order to make the doll's dress, making
arrangements with the other team to play ball, finding the right pieces
of wood for the hut, and so on, may not be satisfactory in and of
themselves, but may be almost drudgery. They are _not_ drudgery because
they become fused in the whole process, they take over and are lost in
the joy of the undertaking as a whole; they become a legitimate means to
an end, and in so far take over in derived form the interest that is
roused by the whole. t is this fusion of work and play that is
desirable in education. This is the great lesson of play--it shows the
value and encourages the logical combination of the two activities.
Children learn to work as they play. They learn the meaning and value of
work. Work becomes a means to an end, and that end not something remote
and disconnected from the activity itself, but as part and parcel of it.
Thus the activity as a whole imbued with the play spirit becomes

The play spirit is the spirit of art. No great result was achieved in
any line of human activity without much work, and yet no great result
was ever gained unless the play spirit controlled. t is to this
interaction of work and play that each owes much of its value. Work in
and of itself apart from play lacks educative power; it is only as it
leads to and increases the power of play that it is of greatest value.
ts logical place in education is as a means to an end, not as an end in
itself. Play, on the other hand, that does not necessitate some work,
that does not need work in order that it may function more fully, has
lost most of its educational value. To work in play and to play while
working is the ideal combination. Either by itself is dangerous.

Two misconceptions should be mentioned. First, the play spirit advocated
as one of the greatest educational factors must not be limited to the
merely physical activities, nor should it be considered synonymous with
what is easy. This characterization of play as being the aimless trivial
physical activities of a little child is a misconception of the whole
play tendency. t has already been pointed out that any activity which
in itself satisfies, whether that be physical, emotional, or
intellectual, is play, and all these phases of human activity show
themselves in play first. Also the fact that play does not mean ease of
accomplishment has been noted. t is only in the play spirit that the
full resources of child or adult are tested. t is only when the
activity fully satisfies some need that the individual throws himself
whole-souled into it. t is only under the stimulus of the play spirit
that all one's energy is spent, and great results, clear, accurate, and
far reaching, are obtained. Ease of performance often results in
drudgery. To be play, the activity must be suited to the child's
capacity, but leave chance for initiative and change and development.

The second misconception is that because present-day educators advocate
play in education, they believe that the child should do nothing that he
doesn't want to. This is wrong on two accounts. First, it is part of the
business of an environment to stimulate--readiness depends partly on
stimulation. The child may never play unless the stimulation is forcibly
and continually applied. Second, after all it is the result we are most
anxious for in education, and that result is an educated adult. By all
means let us obtain this result by the most economical and effective
method, and that is by use of the play spirit. But if the result cannot
be obtained by this means because of the character of civilized ideals,
or the difficulties of group education, or lack of capacity of the
individual--then surely other methods, even that of drudgery, must be
resorted to. The point is, with the goal in mind, adapt the material of
education to the needs of the individual child; in other words, use the
play spirit so far as is possible--after that gain the rest by any means

So far the discussion has been concerned with the characteristics of the
play spirit and its use in connection with the more formal materials of
education. However, the free plays of children are valuable in two
ways--first, as sources of information as to the particular tendencies
ready for exercise at different times, and second, as a means of
education in themselves. A knowledge of just which tendencies are most
prominent in the plays of a group of children, when they change from
"play" to "games," the increase in complexity and organization, the
predominance of the intellectual factors,--all this could be of direct
service to a teacher in the schoolroom. But it means, to some extent,
the observation by the teacher of his particular group of children. Such
observation is extremely fruitful. The more vigorously, the more
wholeheartedly, the more completely a child plays, other things being
equal, the better. A deprivation of opportunity to play, or a loss of
any particular type of play, means a loss of the development of certain
traits or characteristics. An all-round, well-developed adult can grow
only from a child developed in an all-round way because of many-sided
play. Hence the value of public playgrounds and of time to play. Hence
the danger of the isolated, lonely child, for many plays demand the
group. Hence the opportunities and the dangers of supervision of play.

Supervision of play is valuable in so far as it furnishes opportunities
and suggestions which develop the elements most worth while in play and
which keep play at its highest level, and in so far as it concerns the
nature of the individual child, protecting, admonishing, or encouraging,
as the case may require. t is dangerous to the child's best good, in so
far as it results in domination; for domination will mean, usually, the
introduction of plays beyond the child's stage of development and the
destruction of the independence and initiative which are two of the most
valuable characteristics of free play. aluable supervision of play is
art that must be acquired. To influence, while effacing oneself, to
guide, while being one of the players, to have an adult's understanding
of the needs of child nature and yet to be one with the children--these
are the essentials of the supervision of play.


1. Distinguish between the fighting instinct and the instinctive basis
of play.

2. Under what conditions may an activity which we classify as play for a
civilized child be called work for a child living under primitive

3. What kinds of plays are characteristic of different age periods in
the life of children?

4. Trace the development of some game played by the older boys in your
school from its simpler beginnings in the play of little children to its
present complexity.

5. Name the characteristics common to all playful activity.

6. Distinguish between play and drudgery.

7. What is the difference between work and play?

8. To what degree may the activities of the school be made play?

9. Explain why the same activity may be play for one individual, work
for another, and drudgery for a third.

10. Why should we seek to make the play element prominent in school

11. When is one most efficient in individual pursuits--when his activity
is play, when he works, or when he is a drudge?

12. Under what conditions should we compel children to work, or even to
engage in an activity which may involve drudgery?

13. Explain how play may involve the maximum of utilization of the
abilities possessed by the individual, rather than a type of activity
easy of accomplishment.

14. n what does skill in the supervision of play consist?

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